After several months of working at Signals Armouries (with the extra privileges accorded to a Sergeant) it was quite a change (or maybe I should call it a “shock”) to enter into Stanley Barracks as a recruit, with a bunch of chaps who had never been in the army.
When men speak about having been in Stanley Barracks, they are usually referring to living in a large building that was used by the Agricultural exhibits during the Exhibition and sleeping in the stalls that were used for the horses and cattle. We were not so lucky – we were assigned to some large tents that were pitched on the grass right alongside Lakeshore Road on the shores of Lake Ontario. There was no flooring – it was dusty in dry weather and muddy in wet. Bedding consisted of wooden double decker bunks and in lieu of a mattress, three square, thin cushions that sat on the plywood bottom of the bunk, – two blankets, no sheets and no pillows.
We spent most of the first day standing in line waiting to get things done – equipment issued – innumerable forms to be filled out and signed, etc. I was able to forego the medical examination due to my militia record. I was issued some gear that was not included in my militia issue. One of the added items was a second pair of army boots.
There were no ablution facilities in our tent. The nearest one was in a shack about a hundred yards away. If we needed the facilities during the night, we had to climb out of the bunk – put on some sort of clothing and run to the shack – in full view of people driving by on Lakeshore Road.
The first morning, I was putting on my new boots which were awfully hard and heavy. I had to tug very hard on the laces to get them to fit at all. With one foot up on the bunk, I pulled on a lace and it broke. My fist shot up in the air hitting me in the eye, the lens of my rimless glasses broke, and a shard of broken glass cut the skin under my eyebrow. There I stood with a broken shoe lace in my hand – my glasses broken, blood running down my face, and blind as a bat without glasses… What a way to start my first day!
Then came my first army breakfast – and the menu looked terrific: oatmeal – bacon and eggs – toast – and coffee. But the moment of truth: the oatmeal was lumpy and cooked with no salt – the bacon was cold and almost raw – the eggs were black on the bottom and the yolks were cooked hard and solid. The coffee tasted like something unmentionable. It surely made me wonder just what I had gotten myself into – I had signed up “for the duration of hostilities”… After supper (the army does not have breakfast, lunch and dinner – they have breakfast, dinner and supper) I tore home and grabbed my spare pair of glasses (with steel frames) and got back to barracks before lights out.
Next morning, we were paraded for our inoculation shots. At that time, the various medications were not combined in one needle. We were given seven or eight needles – half on one day and the other half on the following day. What sore arms we had! I thought we might have had the rest of the day off after this ordeal, but no way. The afternoons were spent on the parade square, and some sadistic little corporal marched us around, shouting “Swing those arms shoulder high when you’re marching in this man’s army”.
After about a week in Stanley Barracks, about 20 of us were called out and informed that we would be leaving the next morning for Barriefield, the site of the Canadian Signal Corps training establishment. That evening, I managed to get home to tell my folks about the move. I told them that there was virtually no chance of my getting a pass for the weekend, but I was fairly certain I would be home the following weekend.
Next morning, after breakfast, we got packed and were all set to go by 7:00 o’clock. Then we sat around in our tent until almost 2:00 o’clock when we were finally marched down to the train and took off for Barriefield – about a three-hour trip.
We arrived at Kingston in late afternoon and were met by trucks to take us to Barriefield. It was a welcome change to be billeted in a building with wood floors and indoor facilities. We were given some sandwiches and coffee – issued a couple of blankets – and called it a day. Next morning the Orderly Sergeant escorted me to the Quartermaster Stores and into the office of Jack Bridges, the RQMS. (Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant – Warrant Officer Class II)
The RQ was a Permanent Force soldier. He asked me about my previous work in the NPAM Orderly Room, asked me if I could type, and what line of Signals work I wanted to get into. I said I wasn’t sure – but possibly either a wireless operator or a lineman. He told me that they were just getting organized and were desperate for help in Quartermaster Stores. Would I be averse to helping them out for a few days until they got set up properly? I agreed and thus got into the Q branch of the business. I remained in that type of work for the rest of the years that I served in the army – and never regretted it.
Two days later on parade, the Colonel announced that the unit would be moving to Debert, Nova Scotia very shortly. I was included in the Advance Party scheduled to leave the following morning. On reporting to the Stores office, the RQ explained that he had no other Q-trained personnel to send on the advance party, so he had arranged to have my name included on the list. He told me what had to be done in a new camp and to try to look after as much as I could. That evening, I phoned my folks and told them I wouldn’t be home for the weekend – I’d write as soon as we got settled in Nova Scotia.
As a matter of fact, almost a year went by before I got a chance to get a pass and get home again – and that was for Embarkation Leave. After that, the next time I got home was over four years later when the war was over!
Next morning, we were on our way to Nova Scotia, with a brief stop over in Montreal. It was quite a trip – the railway car was very old, with worn out seats. There was one washroom for a car full of men – and some stale cheese sandwiches and weak coffee was the ” chef’s special” for a trip that lasted a day and a half.
It was such a pleasure to get off the train at the Debert Station and stretch our legs. However, from the general appearance of the camp, I got the distinct impression that the next little while was not going to be a sojourn in a luxury hotel.